Talking Heads reporter Calum Tyler reviews Final Ascent: The Legend of Hamish MacInnes.

Final Ascent: The Legend of Hamish MacInnes tells the story of one of Britain’s most renowned mountaineers, an accomplished inventor, a photographer, a stuntman and an author whose writings and inventions have contributed a lot to mountain rescue.  Yet this documentary doesn’t entirely focus on this man’s achievements.  Director Robbie Fraser instead structures the film around the time that Hamish suffered from memory loss and had to be sectioned.

The documentary begins with three of Hamish’s most prominent friends, including actor and traveller Michael Palin, giving quick appraisals of his works, achievements and personality.  However, the film’s story turns around quite quickly as it addresses the time Hamish spent in a mental hospital.  Hamish had been found disorientated outside his home in Glencoe and had been sectioned in a psychiatric hospital in the Highlands against his will.  He was suffering from severe memory loss which was caused by a urinary tract infection.

The film proceeds to tell stories of Hamish’s life through interviews with Hamish MacInnes, archival footage, re-enactments and photos from his vast archive.  The stories tell how he got into climbing, his expeditions, his rescue missions, his inventions and his experiences working on big blockbuster movies such as The Eiger Sanction.  As well as these incredible tales, there are stories of the friends he has lost to climbing accidents including a story about him losing a very good rescue dog in an avalanche.

All of these stories are intermingled with the stories from his experience in a mental hospital.  Hamish describes how he feels that his sectioning was unjustified and how he didn’t recognise the person the medical records were describing.  He also mentions his longing for freedom and even talks about how he had attempted to escape.  The most remarkable story from this time of Hamish’s life is how he was able to regain almost all of his memory back by looking at his photographs and watching his old films. 

The film is an incredible tale of recovery and makes the effects of old age very visible.  It has given a platform for Hamish MacInnes to talk openly about a very traumatic period in his life rather than his history of climbing and of mountain rescue.  Both the positive and negative qualities of his personality shine through the film giving you an intimate view of his life.  The only criticism I have of the film is that the stories from Hamish’s past and from his time being sectioned do not flow well together.

The event concluded with a Q and A with the director Robbie Fraser.  In this he detailed some of the stories he had left out, his experience when making the film and working with Hamish.  He also explained that he didn’t want people to see this movie as a takedown of the NHS or that they did the wrong thing. 

By Calum Tyler

Calum is a 23 year old living in Lewis.  Having battled through depression and anxiety, Calum is very passionate about telling stories about mental health issues.

The Talking Heads project, in partnership with See Me, brings together a team of volunteer journalists to produce written articles and other creative responses to festival events. Click here to find out more.

Final Ascent: The Legend of Hamish MacInnes is screening throughout Scotland, supported by SMHAF. Click here for full dates.